Athens is a small town with a rich history, gorgeous scenery, and home to Ohio University. From enjoying the peaceful Hocking River to sampling craft beers, there are various fun things to do in Athens, Ohio.
Discover the secrets of this sleepy little college town by diving into the local eateries, uncovering ghost stories, all while savoring the beauty of the Appalachian foothills.
We are excited to be partnering with Ohio. Find It Here. to showcase a perfect weekend getaway to Athens, Ohio, to help you plan your ideal itinerary. As always, before visiting any destination, ensure to check their health and safety procedures as the pandemic is ever-changing.
Getting To Athens, Ohio
Athens is located in the southeastern part of Ohio. It is a small college town, home to Ohio University that is situated along the Hocking River. The two major highways that lead to Athens are State Route 50 and State Route 32.
Motorcyclists often visit Athens, Ohio, to go on 9 scenic tours that begin and end in Athens, deemed the Windy 9.
Driving To Athens
Columbus: 1 hour and 16 minutes ~74 miles
Cincinnati: 2 hours and 39 minutes ~153 miles
Cleveland: 3 hours and 27 minutes ~214 miles
Parking in Athens Ohio
Downtown Athens has a variety of metered spots that can be managed with the ParkSmarter App or Park Mobile App. Parking garages are also available.
Where To Stay In Athens, Ohio
Athens has a variety of housing options. Being only a half-hour from Hocking Hills, there are tons of cabin rentals through rental companies and Airbnb. During our visit, we opted for a secluded cabin with a hot tub. While our cabin wasn’t in downtown Athens, it was in Athens County, with only a short drive into the city center.
Hotel options closer to downtown Athens include Ohio University Inn and Conference Center (pet-friendly options available), Fairfield Inn and Suites, and a Hampton Inn.
Top Things To Do During A Weekend Getaway In Athens, Ohio
Ohio University was chartered in 1804, making it the first land-grant college in the Northwest Territory transferred to the United States in 1783. Stroll through the campus on historic brick-paved roads and sidewalks while taking in the beautiful architecture.
During your self-guided tour, don’t forget to visit the iconic Alumni Gate. The gate was a gift of the Class of 1915 to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the first graduating class of Ohio University.
Create Your Own Progressive Brewery Tour
A well-kept secret in Athens is that they have three excellent craft breweries. Making Athens the perfect spot for a progressive brewery tour. Put together an itinerary with brewery tours, tastings, and even bike riding.
Athens is home to the Bike and Brews or Brewed on the Bikeway. A fun bike tour to encourage cyclists to easily visit all three breweries and other popular spots along the Hockhocking Adena Bike Trail.
However, you wish to experience all three breweries in one day, do it responsibly. I recommend splitting flights of beers, and that way, you can try a variety of different brews!
One of the most well-known breweries in Athens is Jackie O’s Brewery. I have always been a big fan of their beer, and when I heard you can do a brewery tour, I immediately starting planning my visit. Jackie O’s has a few establishments in Athens.
There is the Taproom & Brewery, the Jackie O’s Restaurant and Brew Pub; then they also have a bakeshop.
The Jackie O’s Taproom and Brewery is the location along the Brewed on the Bikeway and the brewery tour spot. Venture inside to have your pick of all their incredible craft beer. I recommend getting a flight since it is served on a cute Ohio-shaped board.
There is patio seating and indoor seating available. Bring a cooler if you want to bring some beer back as a souvenir. I also collect the craft brewery stickers to add to my beer fridge at home.
Fun Fact: The Taproom and Brewery’s building used to be an old window factory and the taproom was the company’s display room. That is why all the windows look different.
Brewery tours are open to all guests. Make a reservation on Jackie O’s website, and you never know; the owner, Art, could be the one giving you the tour. Even if beer isn’t your thing, learning about the process of making it, the history of the company, and how it has become such a staple in Athens makes it worth it.
Jackie O’s was named after owner Art’s mother, who later passed away from cancer. His backstory and how Jackie O’s came to be is quite remarkable. As much as I would love to share it all here, I have to encourage you to hear it for yourself.
Jackie O’s has become an Ohio staple in craft beer. While you tour the brewery, you will see a bathroom that Hillary Clinton frequented, the incredible artwork on the cans, and walking on the catwalks above the tanks.
Bonus: You get a beer to enjoy during your tour!
Little Fish Brewing Company
A great brewery to hit around lunchtime is Little Fish Brewing Company. Little Fish offers burgers, pizzas, and appetizers all paired with one of their signature beers. Sustainability is a key focus in how Little Fish performs their daily operations, which shows in the local ingredients and energy-efficient appliances.
They have a great patio area overlooking the Hockhocking Bike Trail. Guests don’t even need to go inside to order their brews. Scan the barcode found at each table and order directly from your seat. Servers will then bring your order to your table.
Little Fish has a bike path that takes visitors to and from the HockHocking Adena Bike Way.
Devil’s Kettle Brewing
A little bit further out near Strouds Run State Park is the Devil’s Kettle Brewing. Grab a beer from their taproom and enjoy the lovely patio with big umbrellas.
They do have a food truck called Devil Dogs that serves up hotdogs and other sausages. I’m a huge fan of their Octoberbreast beer, in which 10% of all sales is donated to cancer research. Devil’s Kettle is a popular stop for folks leaving town since many pass it on their way out of town. A perfect last hurrah before heading home.
HockHocking Adena Bike Trail
Snaking its way throughout Athens County is the HockHocking Adena Bikeway. The Bikeway is excellent for cyclists, runners, pet walkers, and a stroll. It is the perfect way to get from here to there, whether to the Athens Farmers Market, The Ridges, or along your self-guided Brewed on the Bikeway tour.
The Bikeway will take you all around Athens and out to Nelsonville. There are plenty of points of interest to see throughout the trail, bike repair stations, and restaurants. Discover more details on the way is all along the Bikeway at Bike Athens.
Bike Rental in Athens
Sadly, all the bike rental companies in Athens went out of business during the pandemic, making bike rental nearly impossible. However, the Athens County Library does rent bikes out to Ohio residents that are library members.
The other bike rental option available is at the Hocking College Nature Preserve.
The Ridges: The Old Athens Lunatic Asylum
The eerie mysteries that shroud the Athens Lunatic Asylum have intrigued and peaked curiosities for years. Now known as The Ridges, the Athens Lunatic Asylum was in operation from 1874 to 1993. The Asylum saw a wide variety of patients, including civil war veterans, children, and those deemed mentally unwell.
Mentally unwell was quite a vague term as women were oftentimes admitted because of menopause, menstruation, and postpartum depression. The first patient was a young girl with epilepsy whom they thought was possessed by a demon.
The Asylum was built in a time when the mentally unwell were separated from society for treatment. The architect was Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland, while Herman Haerlin of Cincinnati designed the hospital grounds. Haerlin also is known for his landscape designs in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetary and Oval on the campus of Ohio State Univerity.
It was meant to only house 550 patients when it opened; the Athens Lunatic Asylum surpassed nearly 2,000 patients by the 1950s. Later, small housing units were built to create small communities for patients to live in.
The hospital became known for its infamous lobotomy procedures along with electroshock therapy, hydrotherapy, and the use of psychotropic drugs.
In the cemeteries that surround the Asylum, there are 1,930 patients buried. Many of the graves are only marked with a number. Of those patients, it is the sad story of patient Margaret Schilling, whom locals claim haunt the property to this very day.
Today the Ridges is owned by Ohio University. Visitors can still go inside a portion of the old Asylum, which has been converted into the Kennedy Museum of Art.
Exploring The Grounds at The Ridges
Walking tours of the Ridges are offered monthly through the Southeast Ohio History Center. These tours will take you on a guided walk around the grounds and cemetery at the Ridges. However, for a self-guided tour, pick up a map inside the Kennedy Museum of Art.
The grounds include a variety of hiking trails, including the cemetery nature walk, which takes you by the three cemeteries at the Ridges. There is also an observatory, a putt-putt golf course, and Radar Hill, the highest point in Athens.
Radar Hill got its name after the U.S. Army built a defense radar station on this hill during WWII. Once the war ended, both the U.S. Air Force and Ohio University utilized the facility for research. Modern technology started being installed in the facilities. After being recognized for its significant work with NASA Radar Hill in the ’60s, it wasn’t long before the facility was shut down and then plowed.
Now Radar Hill is a popular hiking destination. You will utilize the parking area for the Ridges Trail, and the Ridges Cemetary Nature Walk to access Radar Hill. There are gravel roads in the open, mown areas on The Ridges that are popular with walkers. The main road goes from the water tower west to Radar Hill (0.8 miles).
Kennedy Museum of Art
A portion of the Ridges is now the Kennedy Museum of Art. The museum is free to the public, offering various experiences, tours, and virtual encounters. The Van Gogh Effect was on display during our wonderful visit.
The museum offers a variety of exhibits that rotate throughout the year. Exhibition tours are free of charge. To set up a tour time, contact the museum.
Tip: Don’t miss the area dedicated to the history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum. A few artifacts from the Asylum are on display, along with the old photographs. Read about the history of the Asylum and pick up a copy of Asylum on the Hill, the informative guide.
Dairy Barn Arts Center
Step into the historic Dairy Barn Arts Center for various art exhibitions, events, and educational programs for the entire family. Known for its Quilt National Exhibit, it highlights the transformations taking place in the world of quilting.
The Dairy Barn was originally built as part of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, with patients working at the barn as part of their therapy. Guests can learn more about the barn’s history and even hike the Ora Anderson Trail behind the Dairy Barn Arts Center.
Pleasant Hill Vineyards
Enjoy a stunning sunset while sipping your favorite wine at Pleasant Hill Vineyard. The winery sits on top of a hill offering scenic views of the valley, foothills, and vineyard.
The charming atmosphere pairs perfectly with friends for a great experience. Sample an assortment of wines, order a sharable appetizer, then snag the ideal spot to settle in for an unforgettable evening.
Pleasant Hill Vineyards is one of the many local wineries throughout Athens County. Create a wine tour by adding in visits to Shade Winery and Dutch Creek Winery.
Stroud Run State Park
Get outdoors by exploring Stroud Run State Park. Hike around scenic Dow Lake, test your skills on one of the many mountain biking trails, or cool off at the beach. The boathouse at Stroud Run State Parks offers a variety of boat rentals, from pontoons to paddleboards.
We opted to rent kayaks and enjoyed a peaceful morning on the lake. This area will be a feast for the eyes in the fall as the trees show off their vibrant autumn colors. Plan to spend a few hours exploring or pack a picnic to make a whole day of outdoor adventures.
The Stroud Run campground offers primitive camping with camper cabins available for rent.
Hocking Hills State Park
Take in Hocking Hills State Park’s natural beauty by hitting one of the park’s many hiking trails. Journey to one of Hocking Hills’ beautiful waterfalls or explore Ohio’s wild side while hiking along Old Man’s cave trail or Ash Cave.
Deemed one of the most scenic state parks in Ohio, Hocking Hills is full of cascading waterfalls, rugged gorges, sheer rock walls, and towering cliffs. Whether it is a kid-friendly trail or a more thrilling hike, discover this Hiking List in Hocking Hills that has something for every type of hiker.
Best Restaurants In Athens, Ohio
A foodie staple in the Athen’s community is Mexican-inspired Casa Nueva. What began as the dream of eight unemployed restaurant workers has now grown to a successful, worker-owned operation. From their Bodega kitchen, they have been able to expand their menu and appetizer selections.
Everything from their scratch-made kitchen is excellent. Casa Nueva takes pride in sourcing local ingredients so anything you order will taste fresh and delicious. Don’t miss out on their signature margaritas.
Tip: Casa Nueva has a no tipping policy!
Have a hankering for fried chicken? Then schedule a visit to Millers Chicken, known to have the best-fried chicken in Ohio. This family-owned and operated restaurant has been serving Athens for over 60 years!
The restaurant was only available for carry-out orders as of our visit, but it is easy to transport and enjoy at a local park. We treated ourselves to a 10-piece mouth-watering crispy fried chicken dinner which was divine. Seafood options are also available.
Bagel Street Deli
Don’t let the line fool you; there is a reason locals, students, and visitors flock to Bagel Street Deli. The bagel sandwiches coming out of the kitchen are delectable. With over 70 different bagel sandwich options available, it can be challenging to choose just one!
Tip: Place a carry-out order online to eliminate your wait time, and it also gives you plenty of time to browse the massive menu.
Relax in a more quiet, comfortable atmosphere at Athens Uncorked. This wine bar in uptown Athens has a chill vibe with plush chairs, a fireplace, cozy gathering areas, and eclectic decor. Choose a flight of wine to sip while nibbling on one of their signature appetizers.
Athens Uncorked offers the ideal nightcap for any evening, along with a wide variety of mocktails.
The best pizza in Athens is hands-down Avalanche Pizza. There is a reason the Food Network has claimed them to have the Best Pizza In the USA. Offering a variety of gourmet pizzas with locally sourced ingredients makes this a must while visiting.
With easy carry-out and delivery options, these pizzas make it easy to bring back to a hotel or cabin. Don’t forget the breadsticks!
O’Betty’s Red Hot
It isn’t a college town without an epic hot dog restaurant. Insert O’Betty’s Red Hot. Serving up gourmet dogs since 2003, O’Betty’s is one of the unique restaurants to visit with its’ shrine to hotdogs and beautiful dining room. However, during our visit, only the carry-out window was open.
Tip: Get the chili cheese fries; they may be better than the hotdogs.
One of the best cups of coffee in Athens is at Donkey Coffee in downtown Athens. They are offering small, large, or refillable sizes, and free refills all day. With delicious Chai-Vanilla and spiced lattes, french press coffee, and a variety of expresso drinks makes Donkey Coffee the kick in the morning that you need.
Tip: Order Online for quick and easy pick-up.
A quick weekend away in Athens left us with incredible memories, full bellies, and fuller hearts. With all the things to do in Athens, Ohio, I want to plan a return visit soon.
We were hoping to catch their famous yearly Halloween Block Party. However, it was canceled this year with the pandemic. As if I needed another reason to return to this charming small Ohio town.
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